Archive for month: July, 2019
I needed to get from Bangkok (Thailand) to Heidelberg (Germany) in time for BJJ Globetrotters Summercamp. As usual, I had some flexibility in the dates before camp and was looking for the absolute cheapest possible solution. The best I found was a flight to the nearby small town of Nuremberg about a week before camp, on budget airline called Eurowings. So, I decided to take this little detour and visit an extra city on my way to camp.
The trip over was exhausting and long, taking over 26 hours from the time I left my studio in Bangkok to the time I arrived at my new place in Nuremberg. As expected from a budget airline, nothing except the actual flight was included in the price of the ticket. Baggage cost extra, food and drinks cost extra, movies and earphones cost extra. That was fine, I’d brought plenty of snacks and entertainment (ebooks). What I hadn’t accounted for was that blankets weren’t automatically provided for the 11.5 hour overnight flight, and that the flight was FREEZING even with my standard long pants and sweater which are normally adequate. After about an hour, I caved and paid 6.50€ for a blanket, which was barely large enough to cover me entirely (and I’m pretty small), and so thin that I was still borderline shivering and had trouble sleeping most of the flight. So, for anyone who’s a sucker for a cheap flight deal like me… you’ve been warned!
Except for the temperature and blanket situation, the flight was pretty good and uneventful. One positive thing about Eurowings – their seats were pretty comfortable, and included much better bendable side headrests than most other planes I’ve been on.
Public Transportation and SIM Card
Upon arrival, I needed a public transportation ticket and a SIM card. The first was easy – I was able to buy an unlimited rides 7-day MobiCard pass from a small store in the airport for about 25€. Little pricey but I used it extensively so well worthwhile! Nurember has an excellent public transportation system which consists of metros, trams, and busses. There are very well maintained bike paths throughout most of the city making cycling a great option for transportation as well.
Getting a SIM card was a little more challenging since the Nuremberg airport is pretty small didn’t include any SIM card vendors. I ended up taking the underground metro to the Nuremberg Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) and was able to find a store which sold a couple different plans there. It cost 25€ for unlimited data including a phone number for a month, which was way more than this would have costed in SE Asia but still not too bad compared to standard American rates.
Back in Europe!
After so long of eating rice and noodle based meals, it was absolutely wonderful to have good European bread and cheese again! It seemed odd initially not to see any scooters on the roads, and to use crosswalks again instead of just walking across the streets anywhere whenever there was a gap between cars. Also, being back in Western Europe, everyone around me seemed HUGE, both in height and in weight. Whereas in Asia I was fairly average in height and much thicker than most people (I’m a size S shirt in America but size X-LG in Asia!) – here I suddenly felt very small. I also quickly noticed that everything was much more expensive that what I’d gotten accustomed to paying in SE Asia.
Most of the short week in Nuremberg was spent in a combination of working, walking around downtown, and going for walks in parks and along the canal in my neighborhood. Nuremberg is a pretty small city so it didn’t take more than a couple days to feel pretty comfortable and familiar with the overall layout. It felt very peaceful, slow and calm after the dense hustle and bustle of the big Asian cities. It was wonderful to be surrounded by mostly silence instead of the constant background noise of cars, people, and the city which I’d grown accustomed to in Bangkok.
The Nuremberg city center is quite charming with many cute restaurants and pedestrian friendly cobblestone streets. A lot of the city was destroyed during the war so rebuilt with more modern architecture, but some of the old castles and churches remain as well. On Saturday, the little streets of the city center were full of people, with vendor stalls selling craft goods, fruits, food and beer, and small groups playing live music throughout. I don’t know if there was some kind of special festival going on or if this was just the normal weekend activity for Nuremberg.
I also spent some time clothes shopping near the city center after Christian announced the upcoming giant 50th camp party dress code recommendation was formal attire, which my current traveler’s assortment of clothing did not include. Fortunately, after not too much searching, I was able to find a classic black dress which was not too pricey and a perfect fit!
After having been in dense tropical cities for the last 6 months, I really enjoyed staying in a place with more greenery and temperate forests, and living close enough to parks and canals to go for walks among trees every evening. I guess I hadn’t realized how much I missed that. In the future, I might choose destinations that are a little closer to or immersed in nature.
I did have the chance to stop by Alliance BJJ for some training! Class was taught by black belt Felipe who was originally from Brazil but had been teaching at Alliance for the last 2-3 years. Classes were given in English which most of the students spoke. It was a good class and friendly group of people. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures!
Just to recap… I’d been exploring SE Asia in February 2019. Since then, I’d stayed (and trained!) in the following cities: Phuket (Thailand), Bangkok (Thailand), Hanoi (Vietnam), Chiang Mai (Thailand), DaNang (Vietnam), and Penang (Malaysia).
I now had only one month left in the SE Asian portion of my trip before flying back to Germany for BJJ Globetrotters Summercamp in Heidelberg. I debated for some time whether or not to return to Bangkok, or try somewhere new. Which, I think, is a dilemma that many travelers face. Is it better to explore an unknown city (which may turn out to be a new favorite), or to return to a place you already know and love?
The biggest appeal to Bangkok was budget, convenience, training, and… Vara! For convenience, Bangkok (specifically my little single-room studio close to the gym) really can’t be beaten. My tiny home was budget-friendly and well-equipped, with friendly landlords and close to a Skytrain entrance. There was a coin-operated laundry machine downstairs with plenty of hanging space to dry clothes (very important for daily training!). And (best part!) it was literally next door to Bangkok Fight Lab, which includes an amazing vegan cafe (Nourish) upstairs inside the gym! There was also a massive Tesco grocery store down the street and many restaurants in the area, placing everything I needed within an easy 10 minute walking radius. I was going to be taking some time off the following month to attend BJJ Globetrotters camp and visit my Belgian family, so wanted this month to be focused on training and making as much progress as possible on work projects in advance.
Ultimately, I left the decision of whether or not to stay in Bangkok again up to chance. I specifically wanted to stay in the same studio as before, which was often (unsurprising) fully booked (there’s only 6 rooms for rent, at least one of which was occupied by a year-long tenant). I thought to myself that if a room was available, I’d stay in Bangkok again. Otherwise I’d try a different city. As it turned out, the studio was free for the dates I wanted so – Bangkok it was!
Bangkok, Round 2!
My month is Bangkok flew by! I quickly fell into a comfortable daily routine of training and working all day long, with breaks as needed for food and laundry. Everything that I loved the first time continued to be awesome – good weather (despite the occasional downpour that comes with rain season), good cheap food, hangouts with Vara, and a really great gym atmosphere! In addition, the pollution had significantly decreased since my last visit, making air masks and daily air quality checks unnecessary. I even had the chance to squeeze in a few new cool tourist experiences.
After traveling SE Asia for 6 months, I finally went to a massage place! I was blown away by how extremely affordable these are here. In the US, a typical one-hour massage can cost anywhere from $40-120/hour. Here, it’s $6.50 – $13 per hour! There’s massage places everywhere in Bangkok, so it’s really easy to find one. You can easily spot the legitimate facilities by the uniforms the people working there wear. If it’s a simple outfit that looks a little like medical scrubs, it’s a legitimate massage establishment. If the workers are beautiful ladies in skimpy dresses with lots of makeup on… it’s probably a different kind of establishment.
The Thai massage at the place I visited was actually pretty similar to the Thai Massage places I’ve been to in the US, minus the relaxing natural music for ambiance. The message place consisted of two stories. There was a large downstairs area filled with big comfy chairs with people getting massages and some benches for arriving/leaving guests. And, a smaller area upstairs with a series of smaller private rooms partitioned with curtains. The entire place smelled of spices and tiger balm. You can choose the kind of massage you want from a menu. Some focus more exclusively on certain body parts (back/shoulders, for example), or include extra lotions and oils.
I went for the typical Thai massage, which is a full body massage without oils and lotions, and involved lots of stretching. These are held in the private rooms upstairs. You’re given a loose, light comfortable shirt and very baggy “fisherman’s pants” to wear. FYI – the correct way to wear these is put them on with the string in the back, then fold the left and right baggy waist part over the front, then tie the string over that. Vara came with me the first time I went here and explained how to put on the pants. You can leave or remove underwear and bra beneath these, and if you’re a woman the staff will specifically ask if you’re comfortable with a male massage person. It’s customary and polite to tip.
On my last day in Bangkok, Vara and Bohyun (who I’d met at Bangkok Fight Lab) had the brilliant idea of taking me to one of Bangkok’s rooftop bars! This is basically exactly what it sounds like – an open air bar on the top of one of Bangkok’s many supertall buildings. This one was on the 49th floor, was very impressive but was still by far not Bangkok’s tallest building. I expected it to be pretty cool, but the stunning 390 panoramic views of the city at night stretching off to the horizon in every direction still managed to exceed my expectations!
Another really neat thing that Vara and Bohyun introduced me to (on a different evening) was Thai Hotpot dinner. This consists of a pot of boiling broth on a hotplate in the center of the table. Guests order plates of various raw foods (meats, seafoods, noodles, tofu or veggies etc.) to add to the pot, making a sort of soup which cooks at the table with sauces to taste on the side. Very tasty!
Training at Bangkok Fight Lab
Training at Bangkok Fight Lab continued to be as excellent as before! Its was nice to be able to return to a gym and see familiar faces, and to catch up with everyone I met during my first stay here. The schedule continued to focus on one concept for a couple weeks at a time, progressively adding more details, related variations, and counters before moving onto the next technique. Which for me is the best way to learn, as I tend to forget things quickly if I don’t repeat them many days in a row.
Living so close to the gym, I was able to train twice a day on most days. The noon class was all-levels or fundamentals in gi, and I usually stayed for an hour of rolls. Evening class was all-levels gi or nogi. Classes most days were taught by black belt Morgan Perkins, with Friday evenings and Sunday mornings taught by black belt Colin Slider. I ended up renting a gi, since my two travel gis weren’t enough to train 2x/day and have clothing completely dry again in time for the next class (things dry more slowly in the very humid rain season). Having three gis to cycle through worked out really nicely.
Vara (purple belt) trained in the evening class as well, and continued to be my most regular training partner. A class with Vara always felt like I was getting 3x the experience as from a regular class, thanks to her insight and suggestions on how to improve my movements, and also for the number of reps we were normally able to get in. Giant thanks again, Vara, for a very awesome month of training!
Lisbon, Portugal — Before I started my job in Frankfurt, I had a couple of weeks to kill. During that time, I decided to visit David, my digital nomad friend who was then living in a hacker house in Lisbon. David and I met while we were traveling in Japan, and I was thrilled to catch up with him regarding our travels. In Lisbon, I found Five Elements Jiu-Jitsu Academy to train during the short getaway.
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Lisbon is the capital and largest city in Portugal located in mainland Europe along the Atlantic coast. Encompassing the old pastel-colored buildings, Lisbon is one of the most stunning and picturesque cities in Europe. With its rich history, a year-round warm climate, and vibrant nightlife, Lisbon is a popular holiday destination that draws tourists from all over the world.
Five Elements Jiu-Jitsu Academy is headed by Professor Helio Perdigao, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt under the famous Royce Gracie. I had the opportunity to attend classes led by both Professor Helio Perdigao and Professor Miguel Rodrigues, who is also a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt under Royce Gracie.
My experience at Five Elements was nothing but positive. Before landing in Lisbon, I messaged the academy via Facebook and received a welcoming message. After getting lost in pastel-colored buildings in the city of Lisbon, I finally arrived at the academy. There I was blown away by how kind and welcoming everyone was. Although we did not speak the same language, I immediately felt included in the Five Element’s community. The other students were intrigued by my BJJ journey around the globe and wanted to know more about my travels. In addition, Professor Helio and Miguel were approachable and willing to share their wealth of knowledge. Both instructors created an absolutely phenomenal environment for training.
After the class, Professor Miguel explained to me the values and philosophy of the school and how the academy follows the original principal of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. As a traditional Gracie Jiu-Jitsu school, the academy’s name is derived from “the Five Elements of Jiu-Jitsu.” Nowadays, it is common to find sport-based Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academies all around the world. Instead, Five Elements Academy focuses on both ground fighting and self-defense. Students initially start with basic self-defense and then more sportive moves as they progress.
Five Elements Academy is a well-established academy in Lisbon, and, with International Open IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship being held in Lisbon, it is gaining more popularity among BJJ Globetrotters. Also, with its second location, Five Elements Jiu-Jitsu is expanding its presence in Lisbon. Combined with high-quality instructions and decent sparring sessions, it is totally worth your time to visit if you are in Lisbon. After consuming delicious Portuguese cuisines and devouring 20 Pastéis de Natas, training at the academy will complete your trip to Lisbon. Again, thank you, everyone, at the academy for your hospitality. I will be back in the future!
Location & Facility
The academy has two branches in Lisbon: Five Element Jiu-Jitsu-Matriz & Rato. The academy I visited is located near Rato subway station closer to Lisbon’s city center. From Praça do Comércio, you can reach the academy within 20-minutes via subway, which is close enough to take a quick break from your vacation. Five Element’s facility includes a spacious gray open mat space with a locker room. (Google Map: Link)
Five Elements Jiu-Jitsu’s both locations are open Monday through Saturday including late-night open mat training throughout the week. The academy’s most recent schedule is posted below:
Five Elements Jiu-Jitsu Academy did not charge for the training. However, it is always courteous to reach out to the gym before your visit.
— Five Elements Jiu-Jitsu’s Website
Things to do
- Pastéis de Nata — In Portugal, it is common to spot bakeries and pastry shops filled with delicious cakes and custards while walking down the streets. However, there is one perfect sweet in particular that you must try: Pastéis de Nata. With its original recipe dating back over 300 years, Portuguese custard tarts with a rich egg filling nestled in a flaky crust is a must-try. To be honest, I might have eaten more than 20 of these in my 4-day visit.
- Belém Tower — Built in 1515 as a fortress to guard Lisbon’s harbor, the Belém Tower is UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Tower played a key role in Portugal’s Age of Discovery as it served as a gateway for Portuguese explorers to start their voyages. Visiting Belém Tower is featured on almost every visitor’s itinerary in Lisbon.
- Sintra — About an hour away from Lisbon, Sintra is a picturesque Portuguese town that is situated in the foothills of Serra de Sintra. As a longtime Portuguese royal sanctuary, its forested terrain is studded with extravagant pastel-colored villas and palaces. Sintra is like a page torn from a fairy tale and it is definitely worth a day trip from Lisbon.
- Praça do Comércio — With traditional yellow-colored buildings lining the three sides and a magnificent statue of King Jose I positioned in the center, Praça do Comércio is Lisbon’s most emblematic square.